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Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Richard Thomson


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Background: Decision aids prepare people to participate in decisions that involve weighing benefits, harms, and scientific uncertainty. Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of decision aids for people facing treatment or screening decisions. Search strategy: For this update, we searched from January 2006 to December 2009 in MEDLINE (Ovid); Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, issue 4 2009); CINAHL (Ovid) (to September 2008 only); EMBASE (Ovid); PsycINFO (Ovid); and grey literature. Cumulatively, we have searched each database since its start date. Selection criteria: We included published randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of decision aids, which are interventions designed to support patients' decision making by providing information about treatment or screening options and their associated outcomes, compared to usual care and/or alternative interventions. We excluded studies in which participants were not making an active treatment or screening decision. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened abstracts for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed potential risk of bias. The primary outcomes, based on the International Patient Decision Aid Standards, were: A) decision attributes; B) decision making process attributes. Secondary outcomes were behavioral, health, and health system effects. We pooled results of RCTs using mean differences (MD) and relative risks (RR), applying a random effects model. Main results: Of 34,316 unique citations, 86 studies involving 20,209 participants met the eligibility criteria and were included. Thirty-one of these studies are new in this update. Twenty-nine trials are ongoing. There was variability in potential risk of bias across studies. The two criteria that were most problematic were lack of blinding and the potential for selective outcome reporting, given that most of the earlier trials were not registered. Of 86 included studies, 63 (73%) used at least one measure that mapped onto an IPDAS effectiveness criterion: A) criteria involving decision attributes: knowledge scores (51 studies); accurate risk perceptions (16 studies); and informed value-based choice (12 studies); and B) criteria involving decision process attributes: feeling informed (30 studies) and feeling clear about values (18 studies). A) Criteria involving decision attributes: Decision aids performed better than usual care interventions by increasing knowledge (MD 13.77 out of 100; 95% confidence interval (CI) 11.40 to 16.15; n = 26). When more detailed decision aids were compared to simpler decision aids, the relative improvement in knowledge was significant (MD 4.97 out of 100; 95% CI 3.22 to 6.72; n = 15). Exposure to a decision aid with expressed probabilities resulted in a higher proportion of people with accurate risk perceptions (RR 1.74; 95% CI 1.46 to 2.08; n = 14). The effect was stronger when probabilities were expressed in numbers (RR 1.93; 95% CI 1.58 to 2.37; n = 11) rather than words (RR 1.27; 95% CI 1.09 to 1.48; n = 3). Exposure to a decision aid with explicit values clarification compared to those without explicit values clarification resulted in a higher proportion of patients achieving decisions that were informed and consistent with their values (RR 1.25; 95% CI 1.03 to 1.52; n = 8). B) Criteria involving decision process attributes: Decision aids compared to usual care interventions resulted in: a) lower decisional conflict related to feeling uninformed (MD -6.43 of 100; 95% CI -9.16 to -3.70; n = 17); b) lower decisional conflict related to feeling unclear about personal values (MD -4.81; 95% CI -7.23 to -2.40; n = 14); c) reduced the proportions of people who were passive in decision making (RR 0.61; 95% CI 0.49 to 0.77; n = 11); and d) reduced proportions of people who remained undecided post-intervention (RR 0.57; 95% CI 0.44 to 0.74; n = 9). Decision aids appear to have a positive effect on patient-practitioner communication in the four studies that measured this outcome. For satisfaction with the decision (n = 12) and/or the decision making process (n = 12), those exposed to a decision aid were either more satisfied or there was no difference between the decision aid versus comparison interventions. There were no studies evaluating the decision process attributes relating to helping patients to recognize that a decision needs to be made or understand that values affect the choice. C) Secondary outcomes Exposure to decision aids compared to usual care continued to demonstrate reduced choice of: major elective invasive surgery in favour of conservative options (RR 0.80; 95% CI 0.64 to 1.00; n = 11). Exposure to decision aids compared to usual care also resulted in reduced choice of PSA screening (RR 0.85; 95% CI 0.74 to 0.98; n = 7). When detailed compared to simple decision aids were used, there was reduced choice of menopausal hormones (RR 0.73; 95% CI 0.55 to 0.98; n = 3). For other decisions, the effect on choices was variable. The effect of decision aids on length of consultation varied from -8 minutes to +23 minutes (median 2.5 minutes). Decision aids do not appear to be different from comparisons in terms of anxiety (n = 20), and general health outcomes (n = 7), and condition specific health outcomes (n = 9). The effects of decision aids on other outcomes (adherence to the decision, costs/resource use) were inconclusive. Authors' conclusions: New for this updated review is evidence that: decision aids with explicit values clarification exercises improve informed values-based choices; decision aids appear to have a positive effect on patient-practitioner communication; and decision aids have a variable effect on length of consultation. Consistent with findings from the previous review, which had included studies up to 2006: decision aids increase people's involvement, and improve knowledge and realistic perception of outcomes; however, the size of the effect varies across studies. Decision aids have a variable effect on choices. They reduce the choice of discretionary surgery and have no apparent adverse effects on health outcomes or satisfaction. The effects on adherence with the chosen option, patient-practitioner communication, cost-effectiveness, and use with developing and/or lower literacy populations need further evaluation. Little is known about the degree of detail that decision aids need in order to have positive effects on attributes of the decision or decision-making process.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stacey D, Bennett CL, Barry MJ, Col NF, Eden KB, Holmes-Rovner M, Llewellyn-Thomas H, Lyddiatt A, Légaré F, Thomson R

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Year: 2011

Volume: 2011

Issue: 10

Print publication date: 05/10/2011

ISSN (electronic): 1469-493X


DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001431.pub3